|Edited by Ryszard Panasiuk and Leszek Nowak
Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1998
|ISBN 90-420-0561-0 (b)|
Karl Marx's career as a thinker seems exceptional if we consider the impact of his doctrine. It can be compared only with those of the founders of the great religions. His doctrine, formulated in its main core in the late 1840s in Western Europe, can be treated as characteristic of that time and region. It was the time of a dramatic breakthrough in the Western societies. On the ruins of declining feudalism a new society was being born. It was dynamic, yet full of tensions and conflicts dramatically engaging all the participants of the social transformation processes, the more so that the rise of new classes and forms of social organization was accompanied by long lasting and destructive wars.
The dramatism of rapid changes in the sphere of social and political life was parallelled by the equally dramatic and tense search for formulae that would enable one to comprehend what was then happening. The existing ideas and customs were questioned, the effort to understand the occurring changes was accompanied by numerous projects of social amelioration, attempts at discovering a way of eliminating the drawbacks of the existing social order, or rather disorder, and at building a rationally organized society free from threats, conflicts and injustice.
The study of Marx's doctrine within this socio-ideological context makes it possible to reveal not only the sources of his theoretical ideas, but also the intentions of his critical analyses of reality.
Marx as a social thinker can be regarded as a continuator of a broad movement searching for new ways of rationalizing social forms of life, so vivid in the Western thought since the Renaissance; a continuator who managed to synthesize the multiplicity of various projects of reorganization of the society in a complete and mature form. Thus, when he picked up the ideas of earlier social reformers who were inspired by the Christian tradition (the Messianic idea, etc.), he made them radically secular. Whenever he criticized the economic relationships, he deepened their criticism, made it systematic and raised it to the level of a fully fledged social science, i.e., political economy. When he designed the society integrated as a community, he was trying to present the ways and the socio-economic conditions of this integration. When he considered the possibility of realizing rational order in history, he intended to depict historical process as rhythmical, subject to definite laws; furthermore, he believed that those rhythms could be discovered and then rationally modified.
Therefore, Marx's and Engels' intention to build a scientific theory, which would point, like a compass, to the revolutionary change leading to a society without repression and conflicts, was justified by the mode of thinking in their epoch, continuing the tradition of Western social reform thought. Thinkers of that time — reflected its crucial and transitional character in combining their daring visions of global reconstruction of the social order with the unlimited trust in the possibilities of human mind and a belief in the innate goodness of the human nature, which was being depraved by the wrong social structures and institutions.
It is both the boldness of their global scheme of social reconstruction and its meticulous theoretical grounding which guaranteed the worldwide fame of Marx's project. The doctrine of Marx was convincing for a broad audience through its wording and argumentation, which had already assimilated the scientistic and manipulative style of thinking not only about nature, but also about society. Moreover, the problems raised by the founders of Marxism were the burning problems of their epoch, e.g., the polarization of richness and poverty, the growth of the working class, the lack of any regulations of labor relations, the absence of the welfare system, etc.
It should also be remembered that Marxism was not only a program of the reform of social relations and a theory of revolution, it was also a global world-view, a vision of the world, society and man, which — assimilated by various social echelons, not only by the working class — disowned traditional religious beliefs and practically replaced them. Also in this respect, Marx's intentions were in agreement with the spirit of his time: the traditional forms of religious belief were undergoing a crisis followed by secularization processes.
One might venture an opinion that whatever seemed to be the positive side of Marxism at the time of its creation contributed later to its historical failure as a theory explaining historical processes as well as a blue print of a rational and just society. It is only today that we are able to see clearly to what extent Marx, as a thinker and theoretician of social reform, was limited by his epoch. From the contemporary perspective, beliefs in explanatory and predictive abilities of social sciences held by the nineteenth-century thinkers (and by Marx among them) seem exaggerated and too optimistic. Many opinions then acknowledged turned out to be the creed of the epoch, e.g., the idea of the unlimited possibilities of reason, belief in science as a tool for solving all problems of human existence, together with an assumption that its achievements could be used only in a good way.
The prognoses referring to the fate of capitalism, which played such an important role in Marx's conception, did not come true, since capitalism, so much criticized by the fathers of Marxism, who were demonstrating its shortcomings, proved not only its vitality, but also an extraordinary power of self-perfection. Eventually, it is capitalism that has turned out to be superior to the system realized by the Russian followers of Marx and Engels, too impatient to fulfill their teachers' intentions. That futile attempt to realize a utopian project in a country of a low economic level, and still more enfeebled by the chaos caused by the World War l, brought about monstrous results and untold sufferings of millions of people.
There is one more phenomenon worthy of notice. Marx's theory, designed, after all, as a remedy for the shortcomings of the industrial social system born in the West, remains an object of interest not only for the revolutionaries but also for some politicians in power. It remains an object of interest not in the West, however, but in the Third World countries, in which social problems and conflicts are of different nature than in the highly developed countries.
The above remarks may seem obvious. The reason we recall them in the foreword to the present volume of studies and sketches is to draw the readers' attention to the situation that constitutes both the background and context for the presently undertaken studies on the thought of Marx and his followers as well as on the fate of his doctrine.
The fact that Marx's program of social reforms failed totally in the West, at least in Europe, possesses universal historical significance. It was a utopian project promising people paradise on earth, and deceiving them into believing that it would offer a remedy for the general evil of the world. In reality, it generated an abyss of evil, revealed its inefficiency as a project of a socioeconomic system, and turned out to be barren as an official world-view of the communist state.
The failure of Marx's utopia is of capital importance for the future studies of his theory and its historical record. We mean here not only the fact that, as an object of study excluded from the "living history," it may finally become freely accessible for researchers. The ideological context that forms the basis of evaluation of Marxism has also changed. Nobody can now justifiably claim that Marx offered a real form of organization of social life of the human kind, one which could be considered as an alternative to existing forms. However, it does not mean that all accounts with Marxism have been squared once and for all.
First of all, the various reflections on man and society emerging from Marx are too deeply rooted in the contemporary humanities to be eradicated. Moreover, many of Marx's ideas have turned out to be fruitful and inspiring for the modern socio- philosophical thought. Also, the critical remarks pertaining to the social conditions in Marx's times are still to some extent applicable. The pars destruens of his thought, despite the failure of its historical prognoses, may still be helpful in analyses and evaluation of the existing forms of social life.
It seems that only now, or perhaps still further in the future, when the emotions abate, the statements of Marx may be done full historical justice. So far, reasonable analysis of his thought was thwarted by its uncritical defenders and nihilistic critics. The researchers in the socio-economic history should decide to what extent his thought as well as the social movement it had initiated contributed to the modification of the original version of Western capitalism, the modification that finally led to the repudiation of the Marxist program and its overthrow. The historians of the idea have to evaluate to what extent the conceptions of the author of Capital have influenced social sciences in general, theories of modern industrial society in particular, and, finally, the very concept and understanding of the human history.
We are far from claiming that nothing has been done in that respect. There is vast literature on Marxism involving many thorough studies and original interpretations. However, it has emerged in the shadow of the deadly confrontation of the two worlds, in the conditions of the relative permanence of the situation, in which the empire built on the basis of Marxist principles and the NATO states snarled at each other for years, armed with nuclear weapons.
The above distribution of power belongs to the past and this is a fact of more than solely political significance. Although the world still abounds in conflicts, threats, and tensions, the main axis of confrontation has been broken, just as the delusion that it is possible to constitute a fully integrated classless society, which would be dynamic and economically productive at the same time. The humankind's encounter with Marxism should by no means be put into oblivion or neglect; people seem to have paid too high a price for this vicious experiment to get over it easily, without giving it deep consideration, study and reflection.
This is our intention when publishing the present materials. We are well aware that the fall of communism in Europe may have produced some disorder, or even confusion, among people studying Marxism. It is too recent, too close, for us to be able to estimate its historical scale. Many problems require reconsideration. That is why the present publication may not fully meet expectations of readers interested in studying Marxism. First of all, our collection of papers is not homogeneous. The authors tackle various problems, from politically vivid ones to detailed Marxiological studies. Also, the method of work varies from paper to paper. There are traditional historical analyses of Marx's or Engels' writings as well as theoretical and/or conceptual analyses in the style of the newest analytical Marxism. This multiplicity of views, approaches and methods is a partly unintended but favorable outcome of our editorial work. For it shows that Marx's thought is still worth being reconsidered.